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"ACW wave attack structure" Topic


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American Civil War

730 hits since 11 Jun 2019
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

MiniPigs11 Jun 2019 5:48 p.m. PST

Assuming it existed as a tactic. Does anyone know how the wave attack of brigades in line was pulled off?

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Jun 2019 6:25 p.m. PST

I can't say that I'm familiar with the term. Can you explain?

Mr Jones11 Jun 2019 7:23 p.m. PST

With a lot of luck. Just read the book Civil War Infantry Tactics by Hess and actions at that level were very difficult to co-ordinate.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 7:54 a.m. PST

Simply open columns, that is columns with regiments at a distance. That is basically how Upton did it at Spotsylvania.

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ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 9:48 a.m. PST

So, a column of regiments. Simple enough, each regiment in the brigade is in line of battle, following one behind the other. The only variable would be the distance between them.

William Warner12 Jun 2019 11:37 a.m. PST

I believe the Union attack on the "Dead Angle" at Kennesaw Mountain was similar.

FlyXwire12 Jun 2019 4:32 p.m. PST

Paddy Griffith in his book Battle In The Civil War has diagrams and explanation of wave assault drill, with theoretical distances between regiments of at least 200 yards and up to 800 yards, but in practice commanders closed the distance to 150-75 yards.

EJNashIII12 Jun 2019 7:19 p.m. PST

Scott Washburn, was it the 140th Grant vs Lee reenactment where we did the massive column assault? Came at the rebel entrenchments like that. The first unit hit the center, then the regiments behind fanned out to either side at the point of contact. It was like a tidal wave washing up on a shoreline. Something to behold.

John Simmons12 Jun 2019 8:01 p.m. PST

Upton's attack -
Upton was given command of an adhoc Division.
Hand picked, the best regiments in the Corps, 12 experienced regiments with proven leadership would form for the attack.
Only 3 regiments were from Upton's command.
We see this written about many times with the word column but the formation was in line.
Four lines each of three regiments were placed in line.
Each line was under the command of the highest ranked Col. within the line. The command was with the line, not with the depth of the formation.
No intervals were used, the lines were tight at deployment. Mass.
Each Col. in charge of a line had orders for their tactical actions.
The first line, guns loaded and capped would go over the Rebel line, then break right and left to roll up the entrenchments.
The second line, guns loaded but not capped, would move over the rebel line to push into the interior of the break.
The third line, guns loaded but not capped, would move forward and stop at the ditch for a local reserve to be called up as needed.
The forth line, guns loaded but not capped, would go to ground before reaching the rebel line to be a last reserve.
So gaming this, every unit is in line. Each Demi-Brigade of three Regiments has it's own command.
Col. Upton is acting as the Temp. Command of this Division size force. Appox. 5,000 men.
Key to the early success, Dole's GA boys had lost the skirmish line earlier in the day, no recon warning, no trip wire to sense the danger. Gen. Ewell felt this coming and had ordered Doles to retake the Skirmish line at "ALL Cost".
The Union attack hit before the GA Rebels could do this. Again, interesting for gaming, the importance of this skirmish line for battlefield intel.
The site of the attack, Upton's men were deployed in woods hidden, they had only 200 yards to travel.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Jun 2019 4:16 a.m. PST

EJ, I have to admit that having now fought the Civil War seven times (and we're 7-0!) the individual events tend to blur together. I seem to recall the event you mention, but I can't remember when or where it took place. :)

I did pull out my Casey's last night and paged through the seldom-read section on brigade formations. I found nothing on columns of regiments closed in mass. So I guess Upton just made that up :) Casey does have a brigade with the regiments in double columns closed up tight with each other, which would have, given three brigades, side by side by side, almost the same effect as Upton's column. Wonder why he didn't use that? It would have had some advantages over the way he did it. With twelve regiments it would have given a frontage of 24 companies (as opposed to 30) and five lines deep (as opposed to four). The advantage would be that each regiment would have its own sector and the supporting lines would all be from the same regiment instead of different ones. You could avoid intermingling better that way. Curious…

FlyXwire13 Jun 2019 6:33 a.m. PST

John S., sounds similar to the ground and assault drill we employed during a local con game (albeit our wave was generated by stacking up in the woods initially for its cover benefit) -

TMP link

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP13 Jun 2019 10:03 a.m. PST

I think maybe during the Overland Campaign.

Blutarski13 Jun 2019 11:24 a.m. PST

I do not think Upton's densely ordered column assault at Spotsylvania really qualifies as a "wave attack" in the strict sense.

Also, I would suggest that a wave attack was as much (perhaps more) a tactic at divisional level, wherein waves consisted of brigades rather than regiments.

If one looks to Fredericksburg, a big problem with a wave attack seems to have been convincing the following wave(s) to continue their advance beyond the point where a preceding wave had been stopped and gone to ground.

FWIW.

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FlyXwire13 Jun 2019 12:39 p.m. PST

Col. Emory Upton's official report of the attack on May 10 states the attack was three regiments wide, and four regiments deep, with all regiments deployed in line of battle.

"The column of attack consisted of twelve regiments formed in four lines of battle, lying down in the piece of wood as soon as formed. The lines were formed from right to left as follows: First line: 121st NY, 96th PA and 5th ME. Second line: 40th PA, 6th ME and 5th WI. Third line: 43rd NY, 77th NY and 119th PA. Fourth line: 2nd, 5th and 6th VT."

Blutarski13 Jun 2019 7:10 p.m. PST

Hi FlyXwire,
It has been a L O N G time since the Red Baron days on Delphi Forum! Do you remember "Lord Byron"? HAH!

Re Upton's assault, the distinction I was seeking to make is that the intervals between Upton's brigade lines must have been exceedingly close. If the representation of Upton's formation is dimensionally accurate, the ground scale suggests only 50 yards separation (as opposed to 150-200 yards in a conventional "wave attack".

That's why I think we have to be talking about a different tactical creature.

B = LB

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP13 Jun 2019 8:45 p.m. PST

I believe IIRC, it was 300 yards between the lines and 15 yards between each regiment in the brigade line. I do not trust maps to give accurate distances on such things as formations. Too many compromises between getting words in clearly and actual formations, roads etc. For instance, if the distance was 300 yards, the map wouldn't show them all. Of course, that doesn't mean that the 300 yards distances were kept once on the move.

Also, I would suggest that a wave attack was as much (perhaps more) a tactic at divisional level, wherein waves consisted of brigades rather than regiments.

Seems it was by brigade.

FlyXwire14 Jun 2019 6:34 a.m. PST

Wow, Blutarski seems like ages ago since our old flight sim days!

Yours and McLaddie's points on separation could in fact be well supported.

I was just wanting to make a blunter distinction, to ensure that Upton was describing his assault as regiments being deployed in formed lines, not as in regimental columns.

As for spacing between the lines of regiments, and if some known interval delineated a wave attack or not, that is for others to debate. In practice these distances likely all varied, and certainly so as the lines approached the enemy, and began to compress or become intermingled on the battlefield (something that did threaten the prospects of the whole wave assault concept).

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP14 Jun 2019 2:16 p.m. PST

FlyXwire:

True. Whether it was was a divisional open column of brigades or seen as a set of regimental comlumns, I don't know.

FYI Two of my uncles joined the 6th Vermont when it was formed in October of 1861. It was the only brigade allowed in the AoP to have all the regiments from the same state. Unfortunately one uncle was killed in April of 1862 at Mill Springs and the other died of cholera in Nov. of 1862…

FlyXwire14 Jun 2019 2:46 p.m. PST

Thanks for this period history on your relatives McLaddie!

Here's one of my ancestors that served, and survived the Sultana explosion and sinking -

link

Blutarski15 Jun 2019 6:28 p.m. PST

Ran across Upton's after-action report. FWIW, he described his formation as an "assault column".

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FlyXwire16 Jun 2019 8:46 a.m. PST

A good thread discussion here on the Civil War Talk forum with 1st-hand accounts written about the assault -

link

This quote I found most informative from the diary of Clinton Beckwith, an enlistee in the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry -

"About 5 P. M. we moved over the works down into the woods, close up to our skirmishers (the 65th N. Y.), who were keeping up a rapid fire, and formed in line of battle. Regiment after regiment came up and formed in line, we being in the first or front line and the right of the column, the 96th Penn. On Our left and the 5th Maine On the left of the 96th. Behind us was the 49th Pennsylvania, behind it the 43d N. Y. and behind it the 2d Vermont. Behind the 5th Maine were in order the 5th Wisconsin, the 119th Pennsylvania and the 6th Vermont. The Rebel rifle pits were about two hundred and fifty yards in front of our skirmish line. They had no skirmishers out, ours having driven them in, but they were firing from their breastworks, on top of which they had logs to protect their heads. Our batteries (one on the right and three in the rear of us) were belching away at them, and they were answering but feebly. Occasionally the hum of a bullet and the screech of a shell gave notice that they were on the qui vive."

A Confederate account of the assault in the CWT thread describes -

"So tightly packed were Upton's mass that intervals between the lines were only ten feet."

A densely-arrayed formation, with scant distance between the ranks of the four echelons, each containing three regiments across in line of battle has been my interpretation of this 'assault column'. There are columns within, three, each containing four regimental battle lines in close-proximity to each other, those Regiments spaced directly to the front or rear of another.

Perhaps the descriptive term used for the complete formation has caused an interpretation that each component Regiment was being deployed in column order?

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2019 9:35 a.m. PST

A Napoleonic French method of attacking with a column was to move in with an open column and then closing the ranks as they approached the enemy.

The term 'assault column' isn't a particular formation other than saying the column was used for an attack. I think the description is phrased the way it was, naming each regiment behind the one before it indicates more about how they saw the formation function than anything, everything guiding on the right in each line, the 121st NY being the regulating or guiding unit for the column.

FlyXwire16 Jun 2019 9:46 a.m. PST

Yes, and I think some of these descriptions may have been ways to describe tactics or formations in [American] field terms, and not necessarily ala francais.

Blutarski16 Jun 2019 1:42 p.m. PST

I agree with FlyXwire.

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